The Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SSO) performed a free lunchtime concert of music from Russian composers Modest Mussorgsky, Alexander Borodin, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov and Igor Stravinsky.
It was conducted by Joshua Tan and featured violinist Loh Jun Hong.
This concert, sponsored by Singapore Press Holdings, was widely publicised, and I expected the response to be overwhelming. As the complimentary tickets would be issued one hour before the concert, I timed to be one of the earliest to arrive. Yet, the queue snaking the entire foyer of the Victoria Concert Hall spilled over onto the road outside when I arrived ten minutes after tickets were issued. (I got ticket no 176.) I wonder how many of those who arrived just before the concert commenced were turned away.
Excerpts from Pictures at an Exhibition (Mussorgsky)
The short pieces in this (piano) suite are linked by a series of Promenades which need no introduction. I especially liked the alto saxaphone in The Old Castle and the percussion in Tuileries. The orchestral arrangement by Maurice Ravel has turned the piano suite into a concert-hall showpiece. The pizzicato passages are especially glorious.
Nocturne from String Quartet no 2 (Borodin)
This is one of the best loved tunes, particularly the theme sung by the cello. When the violins came in, I imagined I was floating among the clouds; then I was dancing with the fairies and was unwilling to come down after the finale.
Finale: Allegro Vivacissimo from Violin Concerto in D Major, Op 35 (Tchaikovsky)
This is the moment I’d been waiting for: Loh Jun Hong, whom I’ve not seen in a live performance since he graduated from the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music (YSTCM) several years ago. (He has since graduated with a master’s from The Julliard School, performed all over the world and is a part-time lecturer at YSTCM.) He plays on a $300,000 (at least) rare 1726 Mezzadri on generous loan from the Rin Collection for this concert.
In this lively movement, both the harmony and melody are equally predominant, and so are the highly challenging technical passages. I believe I read somewhere that this piece was considered ‘unplayable’ even by some professional violinists; so imagine how impressed I was by Loh’s performance. I was awe-struck the moment he put his bow to violin and played the first note. His technical prowess and mastery of the violin aside, Loh’s passion and commitment to both the music and performance was evident and clear. He was Singapore’s best bet in the finals of the inaugural Singapore International Violin Competition in 2015, but, shockingly (as he has finished top in international competitions before) his journey ended after the semi-finals.
Flight of the Bumble-Bee (Rimsky-Korsakov)
This is one of the most famous classical pieces ever written. I used to play this on the piano. And I still love this piece, but by this time at the concert, I was experiencing serious gastric pains (as I had only had a small bun since I woke up at 5.30am, and it was now almost 1.30pm), so I did not enjoy it as much as I would have.
Suite No 2 for Small Orchestra (Stravinsky)
Stravinsky originally wrote this as four piano pieces for his children to duet at the piano but later arranged it for an small orchestra. By this time, even Joshua Tan was perspiring profusely (as could be seen from the wet shirt clinging to his back as he conducted). The character of the piece is amusingly off-kilter and quirky. The raucous and lively rhythms bring it to a captivating conclusion. Tan’s enthusiasm and energy came through in spades but the musicians played with a serious demeanor on their faces. Perhaps they were feeling like me – loved the music but feeling terribly hungry!